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- Main-Travelled Roads - 20/56 -
and audacity. She began to understand his power and wealth now, as he put it into concrete form before her.
"I wish I could eat Thanksgiving dinner there with you," he said at last, "but it can't be thought of. However, I'll have you all in there before I go home. I'm going out now and tell Grant. Now don't worry any more; I'm going to fix it all up with him, sure." He gave her a parting hug.
Laura advised him not to attempt to get to the barn; but as he persisted in going, she hunted up an old rubber coat for him. "You'll mire down and spoil your shoes," she said, glancing at his neat calf gaiters.
"Darn the difference!" he laughed in his old way. "Besides, I've got rubbers."
"Better go round by the fence," she advised as he stepped out into the pouring rain.
How wretchedly familiar it all was! The miry cow yard, with the hollow trampled out around the horse trough, the disconsolate hens standing under the wagons and sheds, a pig wallowing across its sty, and for atmosphere the desolate, falling rain. It was so familiar he felt a pang of the old rebellious despair which seized him on such days in his boyhood.
Catching up courage, he stepped out on the grass, opened the gate, and entered the barnyard. A narrow ribbon of turf ran around the fence, on which he could walk by clinging with one hand to the rough boards. In this way he slowly made his way around the periphery, and came at last to the open barn door without much harm.
It was a desolate interior. In the open floorway Grant, seated upon a half-bushel, was mending a harness. The old man was holding the trace in his hard brown hands; the boy was lying on a wisp of hay. It was a small barn, and poor at that. There was a bad smell, as of dead rats, about it, and the rain fell through the shingles here and there. To the right, and below, the horses stood, looking up with their calm and beautiful eyes, in which the whole scene was idealized.
Grant looked up an instant and then went on with his work.
"Did yeh wade through?" grinned Lewis, exposing his broken teeth.
"No, I kinder circumambiated the pond." He sat down on the little toolbox near Grant. "Your barn is good deal like that in 'The Arkansas Traveller.' Needs a new roof, Grant." His voice had a pleasant sound, full of the tenderness of the scene through which he had just been. "In fact, you need a new barn."
"I need a good many things more'n I'll ever get," Grant replied shortly.
"How long did you say you'd been on this farm?"
"Three years this fall."
"I don't s'pose you've been able to think of buying-Now hold on, Grant," he cried, as Grant threw his head back. "For God's sake, don't get mad again! Wait till you see what I'm driving at."
"I don't see what you're drivin' at, and I don't care.
All I want you to do is to let us alone. That ought to be easy enough for you."
"I tell you, I didn't get your letter. I didn't know you'd lost the old farm." Howard was determined not to quarrel. "I didn't suppose-"
"You might 'a' come to see."
"Well, I'll admit that. All I can say in excuse is that since I got to managing plays I've kept looking ahead to making a big hit and getting a barrel of money-just as the old miners used to hope and watch. Besides, you don't understand how much pressure there is on me. A hundred different people pulling and hauling to have me go here or go there, or do this or do that. When it isn't yachting, it's canoeing, or
He stopped. His heart gave a painful throb, and a shiver ran through him. Again he saw his life, so rich, so bright, so free, set over against the routine life in the little low kitchen, the barren sitting room, and this still more horrible barn. Why should his brother sit there in wet and grimy clothing mending a broken trace, while he enjoyed all the light and civilization of the age?
He looked at Grant's fine figure, his great strong face; recalled his deep, stern, masterful voice. "Am I so much superior to him? Have not circumstances made me and destroyed him?"
"Grant, for God's sake, don't sit there like that! I'll admit I've been negligent and careless. I can't understand it all myself. But let me do something for you now. I've sent to New York for five thousand dollars. I've got terms on the old farm. Let me see you all back there once more before I return."
"I don't want any of your charity."
"It ain't charity. It's only justice to you." He rose. "Come now, let's get at an understanding, Grant. I can't go on this way. I can't go back to New York and leave you here like this."
Grant rose, too. "I tell you, I don't ask your help. You can't fix this thing up with money. If you've got more brains 'n I have, why it's all right. I ain't got any right to take anything that I don't earn."
"But you don't get what you do earn. It ain't your fault. I begin te see it now. Being the oldest, I had the best chance. I was going to town to school while you were plowing and husking corn. Of course I thought you'd be going soon, yourself. I had three years the start of you. If you'd been in my place, you might have met a man like Cooke, you might have gone to New York and have been where I am'.
"Well, it can't be helped now. So drop it."
"But it must be!" Howard said, pacing about, his hands in his coat pockets. Grant had stopped work, and was gloomily looking out of the door at a pig nosing in the mud for stray grains of wheat at the granary door:
"Good God! I see it all now," Howard burst out in an impassioned tone. "I went ahead with my education, got my start in life, then Father died, and you took up his burdens. Circumstances made me and crushed you. That's all there is about that. Luck made me and cheated you. It ain't right."
His voice faltered. Both men were now oblivious of their companions and of the scene. Both were thinking of the days when they both planned great things in the way of an education, two ambitious, dreamful boys.
"I used to think of you, Grant, when I pulled out Monday morning in my best suit-cost fifteen dollars in those days." He smiled a little at the recollection. "While you in overalls and an old 'wammus' was going out into the field to plow, or husk corn in the mud. It made me feel uneasy, but, as I said, I kept saying to myself, 'His turn'll come in a year or two.' But it didn't."
His voice choked. He walked to the door, stood a moment, came back. His eyes were full of tears.
"I tell you, old man, many a time in my boardinghouse down to the city, when I thought of the jolly times I was having, my heart hurt me. But I said: 'It's no use to cry. Better go on and do the best you can, and then help them afterward. There'll only be one more miserable member of the family if you stay at home.' Besides, it seemed right to me to have first chance. But I never thought you'd be shut off, Grant. If I had, I never would have gone on. Come, old man, I want you to believe that." His voice was very tender now and almost humble.
"I don't know as I blame yeh for that, How," said Grant slowly. It was the first time he had called Howard by his boyish nickname. His voice was softer, too, and higher in key. But he looked steadily away.
"I went to New York. People liked my work. I was very successful, Grant; more successful than you realize. I could have helped you at any time. There's no use lying about it. And I ought to have done it; but some way-it's no excuse, I don't mean it for an excuse, only an explanation-some way I got in with the boys. I don't mean I was a drinker and all that. But I bought pictures and kept a horse and a yacht, and of course I had to pay my share of all expeditions, and~oh, what's the use!"
He broke off, turned, and threw his open palms out toward his brother, as if throwing aside the last attempt at an excuse.
"I did neglect you, and it's a damned shame! and I ask your forgiveness. Come, old man!"
He held out his hand, and Grant slowly approached and took it. There was a little silence. Then Howard went on, his voice trembling, the tears on his face.
"I want you to let me help you, old man. That's the way to forgive me. Will you?"
"Yes, if you can help me."
Howard squeezed his hand. "That's right, old man. Now you make me a boy again. Course I can help you. I've got ten-"
"I don't mean that, How." Grant's voice was very grave. "Money can't give me a chance now."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean life ain't worth very much to me. I'm too old to take a new start. I'm a dead failure. I've come to the conclusion that life's a failure for ninety-nine per cent of us. You can't help me now. It's too late."
The two men stood there, face to face, hands clasped, the one fair-skinned, full-lipped, handsome in his neat sult; the other
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